MSI has given us the opportunity to review one of their high end boards for Sandy Bridge, the Z68A GD65 (G3). This board features MSI’s revamped Click Bios II, Overclock Genie II for one second overclocking, the “World’s first PCIe Gen 3 Mainboard brand”, Military Class II capacitors and chokes, support for the upcoming 22 nm Ivy Bridge CPUs, all wrapped neatly together with a 5 year warranty. Let’s take a look at her, shall we?
Packaging and First Look
One can see that, like other manufacturers, MSI likes to advertise its features on its packaging. Nothing much to see outside of its main features. Inside, a simple cardboard spacer separates the board from the included accessories.
Tour de Board
Taking a look at the actual board it’s done in MSI’s well known dark PCB with blue PCIe 16x slots, black PCI and PCIe 1x slots, and DIMM’s alternating with black and blue. I can’t say it’s the coolest looking board on the market, but the look of the board is certainly nothing that one would shy away from. The rear has nothing but the back plate for the socket, per usual.
Zooming in a bit to the DIMM and socket area, there are a couple notable things to discuss here. First, the OC Genie Button. Pressing this button (or enabling OC Genie II function in BIOS menu), the CPU, memory, iGPU, and HDD performance will be ‘highly improved’. A lot of boards have this button, but what makes it unique is that it adjusts everything in just one second and it also works in Windows. Pressing this button took my CPU to 4.2 GHz. Not too bad, but not near what one can achieve by manually adjusting some settings for the CPU in the BIOS. I did notice that the voltages were a bit high for the clock speed, but I’m sure this was for stability purposes. This is quick and dirty overclocking to help out a novice or a seasoned overclocker that wants a quick boost of performance.
Another item of note in this area are the voltage read points. This is a very nice feature to have on the board for the extreme overclocker. Most know software values of voltages may not be accurate, so to be sure you are getting the BIOS set voltage for the CPU, Memory, CPUVtt, PCH, and VCCP, check here! This element is usually found on higher end boards, so kudos to MSI for putting it in such a reasonably priced board. I found the voltage readings to be off only by 0.03 v for CPU and memory as compared to software monitoring (provided by Fintek chip – not pictured).
Last for this snapshot, there are 4 DIMM slots supporting 8 GB each for a potential total of 32 GB of RAM.
In the socket picture, you can see the Z68A GD65 uses 8 phase power for the CPU alone with 2 phases between the iGPU and Northbridge. The memory is single phase, which happily took my sticks to 2133 MHz. Note the low profile caps around the socket, this bodes well for insulation if you would like to try your hand at extreme cooling.
Just above the 1st PCIe slot and name of the board, you can see four chips. These are the PCIe 3.0 chips that make this a true PCIe 3.0 board. The difference between this implementation of PCIe 3.0 and others is the fact that multiple slots are PCIe 3.0 instead of just one.
Looking at the first picture, you can see the PCIe configuration with a 1x, 16x, 1x, 1x, 16x (8x with top slot populated) and then two PCI slots. You can also see several of the chips used to make this board work. On the middle right is the Marvell SATAIII chip, the green stickered chips are the dual BIOS’s. In this picture, you can also see the convenient power on/off and reset buttons.
The second picture shows the SATA port configuration with the white ports being SATAIII and the black SATAII. The white ports on the left are run by the Marvell controller, while the right SATAIII ports and all SATAII ports are run by the PCH.
Below you can see the rear I/O with its PS2 (that was not a typo), four USB2.0 ports and two USB3.0 ports, CMOS reset button, HDMI/VGA/DVI, the Realtek NIC, and audio ports including optical and coax. On the bottom I/O panel one can see the front panel USB3.0 header and USB2.0 headers, as well as front panel audio.
MSI has included a full compliment of accessories. A couple of SATAIII cables, manuals, I/O back plate, and headers for the board, driver disk, extensions for the voltage read points, and rear panel USB3.0 ports.
Specifications and Features
Before we get to the basics, Id like to put the board’s best foot forward.
One of the first items that jumps out to me is the revamped UEFI BIOS dubbed, Click Bios II. MSI has updated their BIOS interface to the more common UEFI interface which isn’t your ‘plain jane’, no mouse ability, blue bios. It is more like an OS GUI interface which allows one to use their mouse to maneuver through the BIOS. The move to UEFI allows for quicker device initialization (and boot), and support for larger (2.2+ TB) drives among other features. You can also use this to control overclocking functions from within Windows! The setup MSI came up with is very easy to use, with all the features you would expect in the right places. There will be more details on this implementation in the BIOS section.
Next up is MSI’s Military Class II selection of power components. MSI states these parts are, “The perfect trinity of quality, stability and efficiency…”. This trinity includes Hi-C capacitors made out of a rare element called Tantalum which is able to sustain very high temperatures and has very high electrical conductivity yielding an up to 8x lifespan increase over a solid capacitor. SFC (Super Ferrite Choke) chokes are the second item. These chokes use a Ferrite core that is “Super Permeable”. This allows the chokes to run at up to 35 °C cooler resulting in enhanced motherboard stability. Last, but not least, in this list, are Solid Caps which prevent capacitor bursting and is said to dramatically increase capacitor life.
The last major feature I would like to identify is MSI’s one second overclocking ability via the OC Genie II. This allows overclocking the the CPU, memory, iGPU and HDD (via Intel RST) through the OC Genie II option in the BIOS or the button on the motherboard. This took my CPU to 4.2 GHz with no stability issues, and increased the on board GPU’s performance by up to 36% (according to MSI). This is a great feature for an unseasoned overclocker who wants a quick performance boost or even for an experienced user that just wants that extra bit of clock speed without messing with the UEFI BIOS options.
This board also offers the, “World’s First” PCI Express Generation 3 Mainboard. PCIe 3.0 offers double the available bandwidth of PCIe 2.0, jumping from 16 GB/s to 32 GB/s. MSI is the first board manufacturer to have dual slot PCIe 3.0 support due to its on board implementation (see above). While there are currently no cards that can utilize this feature, the next generation of video cards are just around the corner offering this functionality.
Of course being of Z68 pedigree, you have the ability to run integrated graphics on this board and overclock (best of H67 and P67) as well as using the Lucidlogix Virtu technology to conserve power via routing display and encoding loads to either the iGPU or your discrete GPU. The last major feature of Z68 is the Intel Smart Response Technology which allows one to use up to 64 GB of an SSD to cache a mechanical hard drive, boosting the speeds of the drive tremendously.
Here are your basics (Courtesy of MSI website):
|CPU (Max Support)||i3/i5/i7|
|AM3 CPU Ready||N/A|
|FSB / Hyper Transport Bus||100MHz|
|Chipset||Intel® Z68 (G3)|
|DDR3 Memory||DDR3 1066/1333/1600*/2133*(OC)|
|Max Memory (GB)||32|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen3 (1×16, 1×8)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||4|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Coaxial / Optical SPDIF|
|Serial ports (Rear)||N/A|
|Parallel ports (Rear)||N/A|
|1394 ports (Rear)||N/A|
|VGA Max Share Memory (MB)||1024|
|Green Power Genie||N/A|
MSI has revamped their original BIOS and have come with Click BIOS II that, at first look, is really easy on the eyes. I have to say, I like how this is setup as far as button orientation on the outside and more detailed information presentation in the middle between the buttons. A nice item to have available for an overclocker is seeing the temperature of the CPU and board on any screen. One item to note about that is the BIOS temperature reads almost 15 °C higher than sitting in Windows. There is likely a slight load on the CPU causing this result which isn’t new to me, but I haven’t seen a temperature difference this big. The one thing I noticed with this display is that some major settings fall to a second page. While this certainly isnt a deal breaker, I’d like to see more options per page.
Speaking of the top of the page, one other feature on the top of the Click Bios II, is the boot sequence. You can literally drag your icons (HDD, USB, Optical) in the order you would like for them to boot. I thought this was a very intuitive use of the mouse abilities of the UEFI bios.
The first set of pictures are the Settings button and a few of its sub-pages. It has all of the typical options anyone should need to wring every last megahertz out of your system.
Now, what’s important to a lot of our readers and forum members, the overclocking section. There are enough options here to keep most overclockers happy, even the extreme crowd. PLL voltage override, turbo wattage limits, overspeed protection, major memory timings and sub timings a plenty are just the tip of the iceberg. To make a long story (that you can see in the pictures) short, again, all expected options from a board in this class are present and accounted for.
CPU voltage goes up to a mind numbing (for SB) 1.8 v in 0.05 v steps, DRAM up to 2.464 v in 0.07 v steps, System Agent voltage to 1.585 v in 0.02 v steps, IMC to 1.55 v in 0.05 v steps, and iGPU to 1.25 v in 0.05 v steps.
MSI’s Windows based software is called Control Center. This is the first time I have seen this software, and I have to admit it’s pretty robust compared to others as far as the options it has the ability to see the status of, and change a slew of options. The first page is where you change all your voltages and main CPU ratio. Moving to the second photo when clicking on the advanced button, there is also a nice graphed display for monitoring core speeds, temperatures, max turbo ratios, in the CPU advanced section to name a few. I do not recall, though it may exist, a graphing display in a windows based utility like this.
Last, but not least, are the memory options. You can change darn near, if not, all timings and sub timings in the MSI Control Center. Most applications like this only have your main timings and a few sub timings to change, while this one is MemTweaker esque!
The software worked as described in changing all voltages listed as well being able to set the OC Genie in Windows. There is a lot of information in this utility, and it has to be one of best as far as sheer options to have control over and observe.
- i7 2600k (55x max)
- MSI Z68A GD65
- 2x2GB Gskill Ripjaw X DDR3 2133Mhz
- Asus GTX 580 Matrix
- Seasonic X750
- 60GB OCZ Vertex 2
- Custom water loop (MCR320 and PA120.2 rads w/Apogee XT)
Sandy Bridge overclocking has always been pretty easy with the majority of boards. For most people, this board will be no different. I was easily able to run up to a 47x multiplier with no ill affects through any testing and it was stable for my uses (gaming, benchmarking, and day to day activities). This overclock will satisfy all but the most hardcore of overclockers as 47x is about the 24/7 limit, depending on voltages, cooling, and ambient temperatures of most air cooled systems.
As for the OC Genie button and BIOS option, the GD65 does a quick 4.2 GHz with my 2600k that’s nice and stable for my uses (played hours of Battlefield 2) and ran a couple of benchmarks against it. This is a VERY nice feature for those simply not interested in learning how to overclock, or just want an instant boost of performance.
However, for the extreme overclocker this board may pose a slight problem as it sits right now. I was able to jump in and set a 50x multiplier on the 2600k. Boot to windows and I only see a 49x multiplier…odd. Put a load on it (Wprime and Prime95) and the multiplier drops down to 47x. So thinking I’m forgetting something, it’s back to the BIOS. I double checked to make sure Turbo was enabled (and then disabled), overspeed protection was disabled, C-States disabled (and then enabled), Power thresholds set properly (250/255 W max), and all appeared well. It took enabling a C-State in order for me to even SEE a 50x multiplier. I can’t say I have ever had that experience before. Thinking I finally had it, I put a load on the CPU and WHAM, down to 47x. The only way it would hold a 50x multiplier is when I only had 2 cores enabled and Hyper-Threading disabled.
With this issue, I reached out to the forum and to MSI for a resolution. So far it seems that more users than I are having this same issue and across more boards (GD80) and chipsets (P67) as well. Some are saying a magical ‘June’ BIOS will fix it in the Z68 and some review sites had a shipped bios that didn’t have this limitation. However, I haven’t been able to get my hands on this BIOS. I am waiting on a response from MSI, who is currently working diligently on the issue….
UPDATE: I received a response from MSI and they subsequently released a beta bios in their forums (Link to bios file: E7681IMS.N34) that takes care of the issue I reported (I was told we were the only review site to report this issue!). It appears that they have modified the CPU current limit value to fix the CPU ratio drop issue. After updating the bios again, and completing some testing of my own, this has fixed the issue! Kudos to MSI for taking care of the extreme overclocking crowd with this update!!
Here are some overclocking results. Please disregard the times for the SP32M, as in the middle of this testing I had a stick of memory go down and go only complete it single channel. RIP DDR3 2133 CL7 stick…
I’m going to start off with the bad initial experience on this board, and to be truthful, the ‘bad’ part really isn’t bad at all to the overwhelming majority of users on this site. However, we are Overclockers.com and a fair amount of users here would push past a 47x multiplier which is where I was having issues. This board is really made for pushing the limits and has the ability to bench outside of the case on a benching station having voltage read points and power on/reset buttons on the board. I mentioned in the overclocking section above, I and a few other users have had trouble pushing past and holding a 47x multiplier. With that said, a simple BIOS flash to the version above or greater will resolve the issue for the extreme overclocker. So that wasn’t so bad was it? My wish is that all manufacturers would test these types of things before releasing such a board to the public. At least a fix was found in a timely manner…again, cheers to MSI for the quick turnaround!
With that out of the way, there really isn’t much to dislike on this board. It has a good color scheme with its black with blue and aluminum accents that are easy on the eyes. There are enough power phases to push your CPU to the limits as well as having the low profile caps around the socket area which will help make it easier to insulate for your extreme cooling adventures. Along those lines, the voltage read points and on board power/reset buttons are a valued addition for those not using a case. As most know, keeping an accurate eye on your voltages can make or break your overclock, or chip.
MSI has gone to great lengths with its Military Class II parts to make this a long lasting and stable board. They have also one of the best looking and well laid out UEFI BIOS’s I have come across so far. Last, but certainly not least, with all the quality components, MSI is able to put a five (5) year warranty on the board in the US!
MSI has solid board on its hands. There are enough advanced features on this board to please a hardcore enthusiast, yet the ease of use still remains for those not versed at overclocking with their easy Click Bios II and windows based software, Control Center. Sporting Military Class II components, a 5 year warranty, PCIE3 support, as well as 22 nm (Ivy Bridge) support, this board will likely be with you for quite a while.
MSI has set its MSRP up at $199.99 and this can be found at Newegg.com for $179.99 at the time of publication. That price point falls just below some less featured boards, like the Asrock Extreme4 Gen3 ($199), The Gigabyte Z68XP- UD4 ($199), and matches pricing with the Asus P8Z68-V. The MSI Z68A GD65 (G3) board has a lot to offer all its users and should be a serious consideration at the $200 and under price point. With that, this board gets an overclockers approved stamp.